Scottburgh Pt.2

Not long after that ominous Sunday, Jason, Alison and I headed off in a rental car to tour the coastline from Durban to Cape Town and back again. Along the way we took in as many surf spots as we could and blundered our way into eight more hideous shark scares. We surfed feeding grounds and breeding grounds without realizing it. We paddled out at places where people had been taken and, as well, notoriously dangerous spots. The ten golden shark rules for surfing South Africa all went out the window as we blindly hit the water anywhere along the coast we liked the look of. It was a kind of attempted suicide that I only realized the gravity of when we got back to England.

But still Jason never saw a shark and continued to bitch and moan any time a session was cut short by the alarm bells that seemed to go off regularly. “Alright”, I’d say in the water with Jason, “I’m going in and I’ll watch you get hit by that monster I saw a minute ago, yeah? You sit out here on your own.” Sure enough, he’d slowly paddle in. But he’d still be pissed off for hours about it, even though I’d be wondering to myself if I could claim that I’d just saved his life. He’s a lovely bloke and one of the nicest people in the world, but cutting his surf session off would be like cutting a porn star’s dick of! That’s how severe it is. But I also know how disappointed he is that almost everyone else but him has seen a shark in the water and he’s amping to see one, up close and personal.

We’re in our final week, though. We’ve been on a long road trip and had the best time of our lives. South Africa is just an amazingly beautiful place where everything seems so much larger than life. We’ve driven thousands of miles and finally wound up back in Scottburgh for the last few days before we fly back to England. It seems a fitting end to a huge adventure. And so we surf one of our favorite places again.

It’s another Sunday afternoon with a thousand weekenders on the beach. The wind is blowing from the south and Jason and I are surfing our much loved junky sandbar. While there’s a break in the waves I take a second to appreciate the outrageous beauty of the place we’re surfing, as seen from the sea. It is staggeringly tropical. But, hold on. What’s happening? There’s no-one on the beach or in the sea. Everyone’s up on the grassy knoll again and there must be more than a thousand people. This is the same as before. The outcrop of rocks is covered in people who are all scouring the sea for something. there’s no space for anyone else who wants to look. Oh, now I’m spooked.

But wait. What about the lifeguards? Abject silence. Not a peep, an announcement or a message. Nothing whatsoever. Weird. And my three beloved wise monkeys? They’re nowhere to be seen. So, what’s going on? I am starting to freak out. Mostly because I’ve started to realise how much murder Jason and I have got away with during our tour of the most sharkey country on Earth, and it would be a damn shame to get taken when you’ve only got three days left. Just then a typically rubbish wave comes my way and I manage to humiliate myself in quite splendid style by trying to rip a wave apart with no speed. You can imagine. It’s just as well that we’re Englishmen and know no shame.

After the wave I start to paddle back out to sea when I notice that Jason’s heading straight for me and the beach. You almost never paddle in, in surfing, because a wave would push you half the distance with no effort required. You might as well catch a last wave, too. In fact, whole sunset sessions stretch off into pitch black dark as you’re desperate to make your last wave a really great ride. So, what’s up with Jason? As he gets closer, it becomes clear he’s had a bit of a shock. All the blood has drained from his face and he looks half dead. Grey is the colour that springs to mind. He’s wearing a crooked smile the likes of which I’ve not seen before, but, having just seen Heath Ledger’s Joker in Batman, I can only equate his grin with that of the Joker’s. It’s almost ear to ear and completely lop-sided. To top it all off, he’s paddling slowly, calmly with an air of, “oh, I really don’t care anymore”.

When we get a few feet from each other, he looks at me, smiles and says, “mate, I’ve just seen a shark fin the size of a door”. Then he very casually paddles past me, towards shore. Huh? What on Earth was that about? Taking in the situation and the crowds and what Jason has just said it becomes pretty clear that the best option to take would be to follow him in. And so we both head in. Again, paddling in with a thousand people watching is hideously daunting. Except they don’t seem to be looking at us this time. They’re all staring out to sea. What the bloody hell is going on? This is really freaking me out. A shark fin the size of a door? There are no shark fins the size of a door. But I was wrong, because there are and Jason has, indeed, just seen one.

So, where are the lifeguards? They’ll know what this crowd’s doing and they’ll know what just scared the daylights out of Jason. Sure enough, Dog, Rob and Blaine are heading down the hill towards the beach to welcome us back onto dry land. But this time they’re laughing so hard Dog’s gripping his stomach and Blaine’s crying, while Rob’s trying to stop them from falling over. It’s quite a scene and Jason’s not finding it all that funny. He makes it back to the beach before me and is walking towards them as I start to exit the water. With one arm holding his board out wide and the other gesticulating toward the horizon, he says, in one word sentences, “WHAT… THE… FUCK… WAS… THAT… ?!!?”

Rob takes a break from the giggles to just about mutter, “Ahhh, Jason. I see you’ve just met Basil.” Jason explodes, “Basil? BASIL?!! WHO THE FUCK IS BASIL?!!!” Dog replies, “Basil the Basking Shark. He’s a tourist attraction. Comes up and down this coastline every couple of months. The locals love him,” and he starts laughing again.

You can only picture Jason, the Doubting Thomas, sitting out to sea, thinking to himself, “South African sharks? Crap, mate. I never saw one. Don’t worry about it. No problem surfing with sharks in South Africa because there aren’t any!” And then, about 40 metres away this enormous shark fin bursts out of the surface of the sea and traverses the ocean right in front of him, almost as if Basil knew what he was thinking and just wanted to knock that idea right out of Jason’s head. And Basking sharks do indeed have a fin the size of a door. Along with the whale shark, they are two of the biggest creatures in the sea. Although harmless to man and feed only on plankton, they are members of the shark family and not in any way to be confused with whales. As such, their fins are shaped in an angular style much like that of a Tiger or Bull shark and not in the fashion of a typical whale’s dorsal fin. You’d see Basil’s massive dorsal fin and know it is and can only be a shark fin and nothing else. But, “size of a door” would mean the shark would have to be around 30 feet and Basil is just about that.

Oh, we can laugh about it now. But at the time we stained our wetsuits. South Africa is not for the faint hearted

Mr I.

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  1. A little off the subject perhaps, but a request for people to think about the ethics of buying wetsuits. Do try and consider, for example, the materials the item is made from, the human rights of the factories where they’re made and the green credentials of retailers. Oh, and try to recycle instead of discarding. Thanks!!!!

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